Crosman Remington Model 1875 Part 1
The third gun of the American West and Frank James favorite
By Dennis Adler
Crosman Remington Model 1875 Part 2
Crosman Remington Model 1875 Part 3
Think of the Remington Model 1875 as the conclusion of a trilogy. In the great panorama of the American West there were many guns, but when it comes to revolvers, there were three that stood head and shoulders above the rest, Colt, Smith & Wesson, and Remington; three names that survive to this day. The Remington Model 1875 was literally the third great western cartridge revolver of the trio, though Remington was historically the oldest armsmaker in America. Unfortunately, E. Remington & Sons didn’t build its first revolver until 1857, 23 years after Samuel Colt’s first revolver, and the same time that S&W introduced America’s first cartridge-loading revolver. Remington had been in business since 1816 as a barrel maker, and never quite caught up with either Colt’s or S&W in the 1800s. Still, those who carried Remington revolvers from the late 1850s and throughout the Civil War remained loyal to the brand as the Ilion, New York armsmaker played catch-up to Colt and S&W. The Remington Model 1875 became their most famous large caliber cartridge revolver and remained in production until 1888, when it was replaced with the little remembered Model 1888 and then Model 1890, which only lasted until 1894, when Remington abandoned the revolver market. Although the Model 1890 sold only around 2,000 examples, the Model 1875 saw far greater success with nearly 40,000 manufactured, at least two of which were carried by outlaw Jesse James’ older brother Frank.
Frank & Jesse
Frank and Jesse James had been on the losing side of the Civil War, but unlike many ex-Confederates who moved west after the South surrendered, Frank and Jesse stayed in Missouri. Many Southerners who had fought in The War Between the States headed West during Reconstruction (the period of reorganization of Southern States that took place from 1865 to 1877) to seek out a new life. Many became farmers, cattlemen, cowboys and ranchers, some successful businessmen, politicians, and lawmen, while others chose to live their lives on the other side of the law, Frank and Jesse were of the latter. By 1866 they had formed a band of ex-soldiers including Cole, Jim and John Younger (and later Bob Younger). The James-Younger gang was born out of the Civil War and history would make them immortal. But almost to a man they paid the price for that immortality; the one exception was Frank James.
After almost a decade of robberies, escapes, close calls, the loss of a few riders, and a list of victims shot or killed during their heists, fame caught up with them on September 7, 1876 in Northfield, Minnesota. As history records, it was one of the most botched robberies ever. The James-Younger gang was so well known, as soon as they rode in and opened fire, rather than running for cover, the town’s people began arming themselves. Within minutes the James and Younger boys found themselves on the receiving end of an unequally-matched shootout. Three members of the gang were shot dead in the street and one of the Youngers yelled to Jesse, “Let’s get out of here, they’re killing us.” With little more than the cash from a teller’s drawer; Frank, Jesse, Cole, Jim and Bob Younger, and gunman Charlie Pitts barely escaped with their lives. Pitts was killed by the posse that gave chase and the Younger Brothers were so badly shot up during the robbery, they all but surrendered when cornered. Though wounded, Frank and Jesse miraculously escaped and hightailed it out of Minnesota into Dakota Territory. The Younger brothers pled guilty to robbery and murder. Bob died in prison, Jim and Cole spent the next quarter of a century behind bars. Six years later on April 3, 1882, Jesse was murdered by Bob Ford, one of his own men for the $10,000 reward placed on his head by Missouri Governor Thomas Crittendon. After Jesse’s death Frank surrendered himself, turning over one of his two 1875 Remingtons, the other was already gone. He stood trial and the jury found him not guilty. Frank spent most of the remainder of his life living quietly, with a year or so on the road at the turn of the century appearing in Wild West Shows, and briefly sharing the limelight with Cole Younger, who had been paroled in 1902. They spent a year going across America lecturing and performing in their own Wild West Show.
The second Remington Model 1875 owned by Frank James is the one shown in this article, and was at one time owned by famed holster maker John Bianchi, and was on display in his Frontier Museum (which later became the foundation for the Autry Museum in Los Angeles). As Bianchi told me when I was writing his biography in 2009, the Frank James gun came to him as a result of the L.A. Times article on his museum. “My secretary, Elsie, got a call and she knew what questions to ask, and she comes running in. ‘Boss, you’ve got to take this call!’ The man on the phone said he has one of Frank James’ Remington revolvers. He brings it in with the gun in a cardboard box, and in a towel is a Remington in an old Slim Jim holster with the cartridges still in the belt loops. He had all the documentation and it was one of Frank’s guns that he gave to a doctor that treated him after James agreed to surrender to the Governor of Missouri. Frank was sick and he wanted to be treated before he turned himself in. The doctor came to James and treated him privately until he recovered. He had no money so he gave the doctor his left-hand holster and gun. Many years later the doctor’s wife went to a Wild West Show where Frank James was appearing. After the show she got him to examine the gun and holster and write a note stipulating that it was his. He wrote it on the back of a cardboard cigarette box and she put it in the box with the gun. It went through three generations and the man who brought the gun to me was the grandson of the doctor.”
This may well be the most famous Remington Model 1875 in the world and it serves as a reminder that the Old West never really died, it is a part of our history, our stories, and our heritage, the good, the bad, and the infamous. The Crosman Remington Model 1875 is another bold reminder, and takes its place alongside the Colt Peacemaker and S&W Schofield as one of the most famous single action revolvers ever designed, no matter what it is chambered to fire.